Hobbitual offenders

from Grand Junction Freepress on

Is there any subject left unaddressed by popular music? It seems everything on earth has, at some time, been the subject of a song — in fact, everything on Middle-earth, even!

When John Ronald Reuel Tolkien wrote “The Hobbit” in 1937, and then the epic “Lord of the Rings” trilogy approximately 17 years later, he could have little notion of the impact his work would have on the popular culture of the world half a century hence. But not only did the success of those books help germinate the genre of high fantasy, but Tolkien's characters have strayed far afield in subsequent decades ... even into the world of pop music, a world at least as strange as that which produced Sauron, Gollum and Tom Bombadil.

There have been songs influenced or inspired by Tolkien's works in every musical genre, although it's heavy metal and its offshoots (death metal, speed metal, black metal, etc.) which have seen the greatest pollination by Tolkienesque concepts and characters. In fact, there are literally dozens of bands — most with unpronounceable Germanic or pseudo-Celtic monikers like Agarwaen, Daedeloth and Isengard — who have made careers of translating Tolkien's stories and poems into three-minute distorted-guitar-and-cookie-monster-vocals extravaganzas.

But even better known bands and artists have occasionally found their muse in Middle-earth. Led Zeppelin, for instance, name-dropped Gollum and Mordor (the mountain-walled land that the evil Sauron called home) in “Ramble On” from their second album, and the Misty Mountains referenced in “Misty Mountain Hop” are believed to be Tolkien's mountain range by the same name, where Gandalf battled the Balrog.  

Other well-known acts to have tackled Tolkien include the pop rock outfit Styx (“Lords of the Ring”), prog-rock combos Camel (“Nimrodel/The Procession/The White Rider”) and Amon Ra (“The Story of Beren and Luthien”), hard rockers Argent (“Lothlórien”) and Texas singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt (“Silver Ships of Andilar”).

The original hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, has had numerous songs written in his honor, with the earliest and best-known being “Star Trek” actor Leonard Nimoy's (in)famous 1967 recording of “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins,” which was written by Charles Randolph Grean (who also wrote the Phil Harris novelty hit, “The Thing,” in 1950).

Two years later, psych rockers Armageddon recorded “Bilbo Baggins” on Jimmy Bowen's Amos Records label. Since then, Bilbo has been immortalized in dozens of songs.

Meanwhile, Bilbo's adopted son, Frodo, has also seen his share of songs, including the Flight of the Conchords' hilarious “Frodo,” country act Barefoot Jerry's “Hero Frodo,” and ska band the Homecoming Queens' “Frodo Doesn't Wear Shoes.”

But the Tolkien character with the most songs written about her has to be Galadriel, who was played by Cate Blanchett in Peter Jackson's film adaptation of the Rings trilogy.

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